A friend’s wedding may have been our perfect excuse to head over on holiday to Canada, but it’s also a place I’ve always wanted to visit. It might be a slightly different type of holiday with two kids in tow than it would have been a few years back – not much opportunity for wandering and exploring, or hanging out in vaguely hipster bars – but it was still a fab trip.
Here’s some of our highlights and tips if you’re heading to Toronto with kids – especially in winter when some attractions are closed and it’s too cold to spend much time outdoors:
CN Tower Restaurant
It’s the big attraction of the Toronto skyline and one that’s easy to get the kids excited about. You can buy a standard entrance ticket for $32, but our tip is to book a table at the 360 revolving restaurant. It’s $55 for the fixed price two course lunch menu ($35 for kids), so not that much more than the standard entrance plus buying food out somewhere else, if you think about it.
The food is genuinely delicious and generous in portions, and you get unobstructed views through the glass as the restaurant revolves while you eat. You also get access to the viewing level after you’ve eaten where you can brave the glass floor and venture outside on the walkway (although this bit is behind mesh so the views aren’t as good as in the restaurant). Our two were ‘too cold’ within about 30 seconds of stepping outside so the time in the warmth of the restaurant was well worth it to take everything in, and we were able to get some great photos without having to resort to buying the green screen official pics from downstairs.
There’s a small kids play area on the ground floor as well which is worth knowing about if you need the kids to burn off some energy either before or after!
Oh, and if you’re scared of heights like me, stand at the back of the elevators when you’re going up, as the glass doors – and glass panels on the floor – don’t hide anything!
When we were asking Torontonians where we should take the kids whilst in Toronto, the relatively new aquarium, right next door to the CN tower, was roundly recommended. I almost didn’t bother though – surely an aquarium is an aquarium, I thought, and we’ve been to a few in the UK to know what to expect. I’m so glad we did though, Ripleys is by far the best aquarium I’ve been to and well worth a visit.
Whilst the whole thing is really well designed and the children’s play area right in the centre could easily have kept our eldest entertained for hours if we’d let her, the highlight was definitely the underwater tunnel. Unlike some I’ve been to where you can see the other end as soon as you enter, and at busy times inevitably gets blocked by people standing waiting for a lonely shark to wander past, this one twisted and turned back on itself so it felt like it was huge, and the moving walkway running through it meant you could concentrate on fish watching not on tripping over someone else’s children. Add to this a plethora of sharks, a lazy sawfish laid right on top of the tunnel, and countless other fishy delights, and it was a big win.
The visit was topped off with a chance to see a diver feeding the fish in one of the tanks (and happily posing for photos with the kids after the ‘show’), and plenty of chances for the kids to crawl under, through and into tanks of fish (all while staying dry!), which all in all meant we pretty much had to bribe G to leave. Luckily this was achieved by the promise of the outdoor railway museum right across the street, complete with a real life ‘Tidmouth Sheds’ and train turntable.
If you need to bribe any adults to leave, one of the sheds now hosts the Steam Whistle Brewery tour.
Marlies Ice Hockey at the Ricoh Arena
I loved the idea of going to an ice hockey game, but tickets to see the Toronto Maple Leafs were pretty much out of our range, especially as I wasn’t sure how the kids would cope with an evening game, and wasn’t entirely sure how child friendly it would be in general.
Instead we bought $30 tickets to see Toronto’s other team, the Marlies, playing against Chicago Wolves. My fears of whether it would be appropriate to take kids to were allayed when our taxi followed a school bus full of kids in to the arena, which is just a short taxi ride from downtown.
Despite being a low scoring game (2:1 to Chicago, since you’re asking), it was a much greater spectacle than seeing it on tv would have you think, and great fun. We resisted the urge to buy a giant foam finger (I’m not sure we’d fit it in our luggage home!), and left a little before the end to grab a cab from outside and get the kids to their much welcomed beds.
Ontario Science Centre
Despite being a taxi ride out from downtown (ours was about $25 each way), and with an entrance fee of $22 ($13 for kids), the Ontario Science Centre is a stalwart of the guidebooks and promised lots of hands on experiments and fun.
The building itself is rather sprawling and poorly signposted, and compared to the shiny newness of the aquarium some of it has seen better days, but it’s what’s inside that counts, and despite a whole afternoon there right until it closed at 4pm, we barely scratched the surface.
The big success of the day was the planetarium, where we went to a show for fives and under which saw the night sky projected onto the ceiling, taking the kids around the constellations and off on a spaceship to the moon. Both G and C were rapt – the latter particularly striking as she had been in a monumental grump most of the day!
The hands on science arcade was also a winner, and we could easily have spent longer there if we’d had a bit more time and energy.
Top tip if you do go – find out if the Van de Graaf generator is still there – it’s all Torontonians will be asking you for days. We missed it but it seems to be the one thing locals all remember from school trips.